Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Published: 2009
Read: 2011
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 3
Reviews: Goodreads

This book reminded me of the recently read, In Cold Blood, as both authors found a relatively obscure story which was to be the subject of a magazine article but instead, became an obsession and a much bigger story, warranting the larger canvas of a book.

Because Bartlett chose to write in the first person (as opposed to Capote who wrote in the third person),  the reader is privy to her initiation into the world of rare book collecting.  She reads extensively of past bibliomaniacs and conducts interviews with the subjects of her book, John Gilkey, unrepentant, prolific book thief and Ken Sanders, rare book store owner and self-appointed detective, determined to bring him to justice.
We were all tenacious hunters - Gilkey for books, Sanders for thieves, and me for both of their stories. 
As she becomes submerged in the world of books and book lovers, she reminisces about the special books in her youth like Charlotte's Web:
For several days I lived in Wilbur's world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte's death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book.  I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put off the inevitable end, my banishment from that world.  I still do this. 
She explores the collecting obsession which is embodied in Gilkey, a man who will go to any lengths to realize his dream of owning a vast library of first edition books, and therefore being the envy of all:

Every collector, by definition, seems to be at least a bit obsessed, a little mad.....the accumulating never ends.  

While I have no interest in being a rare book collector, I did find this book interesting and a quick read.  My favorite bookish quotes are below and after reading, I spent some time thinking about my own obsession with books.
....books are historical artifacts and respositories for memories - we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on. 
Books....root us in something larger than ourselves, something real.
Touring a personal library is a lot like going through someone's family photo album.
I love this quote from John Milton (1644) which says the soul of an author is in their book:
For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.
Since Josh's death, books have become a vital part of my grief journey. Within their pages have come help and support from survivors of suicide who have courageously written their stories, from parents who have lost children, from memoirist writing about tragedies in their own lives, from fictional stories that explore the subjects of suicide, death, grief and mourning.

I have also expanded my reading to literary fiction in the quest to broaden my own knowledge and become a better writer.  I have become a more voracious reader as time goes on, on-track to read 100 books this year, an all-time high.  Finding books to add to my TBR pile is a newly found hobby.  For example, during our summer vacation on Cape Cod, my daughter and I found three used books stores and 18 reasonably priced books.  In Vermont, my favorite bookstore Northshire, had expanded their used book section and 14 new and used books were added to my take home pile, much to the chagrin of my non-bookish husband.

What can I say?  While always a book lover in the past, it has become an absolute necessity.  And now, because of Milton's quote, I am more cognizant and actually humbled to think that when I read a book and ingest the words, that I am taking in part of an author's soul.  Writing and reading are both sacred acts.

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